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What happens when a community starts planning from scratch? Towards a broader application of GIS to reduce disaster risks and plan land use, post-Haiyan

30 November 2016
ESSC meeting with the local government DRR and GIS staff of Hernani in Eastern Samar on the collaborative work on capacity strengthening (Photo credit: ESSC)

ESSC meeting with the local government DRR and GIS staff of Hernani in Eastern Samar on the collaborative work on capacity strengthening (Photo credit: ESSC)

Dallay Annawi

Hernani and Marabut are among the coastal towns in Eastern Visayas in the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and had to rebuild their database, maps, and plans from scratch, after the storm surge destroyed their municipal buildings along with their maps and records.

These local government units (or LGUs that are municipalities) recognize that a geographic information system (GIS) is a useful computer-based tool for comprehensively locating and building back better.  It allows them combine their vision and planning with areas that are assessed by national government agencies as susceptible to varying levels of hazards and overlay useful layers of social data gathered locally.

The Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC), a Jesuit research and training institute in the Philippines, started a series of GIS training activities this year with support from Xavier Network.

Three training modules are designed to equip the LGU staff with basic skills they could apply in local planning.  Module 1 provides an introduction on GIS and orientation on how the free and open source software, Quantum GIS or QGIS, worked.  Module 2 covers exercises in applications on mapping and developing their database on evacuation centers and relocation sites, and on mapping houses and facilities exposed to hazards.  Module 3 reinforces skills introduced in earlier modules and presents a framework in analyzing the disaster risk contexts at the barangay (village) level. Some of the trainees previously attended a GIS training using another GIS software provided by a national agency, but the one-off course was not enough to bring them to a level of application.

Mr Lito Ogana, the local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management (DRRM) Officer in Hernani acknowledged, “What is important is we acquire the skills that we can apply in our local planning.”  The basic knowledge in GIS that the trainees got was supplemented by similar GIS trainings for land use planning and climate change adaptation from other assisting agencies.

Explaining to local government trainees the importance of georeferencing existing maps (Photo credit: ESSC)

Explaining to local government trainees the importance of georeferencing existing maps (Photo credit: ESSC)

Municipal overview and planning

Mr Amado Candido, the Municipal Planning and Development Coordinator of Hernani, shares that GIS enables them to have an overview of the municipality with its topography, rivers, roads, built-up areas, and the hazard susceptibility (landslides, flooding, or storm surge).

As part of their long-term land use planning, the LGU needs to identify areas in the interior that are relatively less prone to hazards that may be gradually developed and draw communities away from the coast.  Hernani is showing the way by transferring all new public structures to an area that is safe from storm surge and landslides.

Mr Alvin Cabanatan, the Information Technology support staff also in Hernani, also shared that they are now able to integrate relevant data layers in their plans.  For instance, they recently acquired data on the reforestation projects in their municipality, which is an input in their forestland use planning.

Integrating the local situation and technical data at the barangay level

At the barangay level, a GIS application in mapping the houses exposed to hazards and the responses allows the trainees integrate the local situation and experiences with the technical data, providing a better understanding of possible disaster risk reduction in a community.

First, the application identifies the hazards that may affect a community and the relevant natural and social conditions that contribute to the proneness of the area to the hazards.  Second, all the houses and the structures in the community are mapped in relation to areas assessed as prone to specific hazards.  Population and household data are gathered to identify the vulnerable groups who must be prioritized in DRR planning.  Third, the community’s evacuation strategies and other responses (such as relocation efforts, if any) to reduce people’s risks are identified.

This initial analysis of the DRR situation provides the baseline information for the logistical preparations needed during evacuation in case of an incoming typhoon or a heavy rainfall event.

Local government staff of Marabut, Samar who undertook basic GIS training are challenged to integrate DRR in their work responsibilities in health, social work, and other services provided to people. (Photo credit: ESSC)

Local government staff of Marabut, Samar who undertook basic GIS training are challenged to integrate DRR in their work responsibilities in health, social work, and other services provided to people. (Photo credit: ESSC)

Ways foward

The LGUs need to gather data from the barangays and develop their geodatabase, as the trainees further develop the basic GIS skills acquired, with practice.

As shared by Marabut Municipal Administrator and former mayor Percival Ortillo, “there is a need to establish once and for all a common dataset of the population of the municipality.”  He understands and acknowledges that there is no short-cut to actual data gathering in the field and data processing to re-build their municipal datasets.

The Marabut LGU needs to provide support and time for the trainees to focus on their GIS-related tasks for their planning.  Most fundamental is the comprehensive land use plan which plays a significant role in disaster risk reduction and forms the basis of all other plans required of the LGUs, such as the plans for local DRR and management, contingency, shelter, forestland use, solid waste management, and the climate change adaptation.

Accompanying LGUs to acquire basic GIS capacity and finding new ways to respond to the call for change

ESSC designed the GIS training to create a GIS team within the LGUs, as data collection, management, processing and analysis cannot be lumped onto just one person.  An environmental planner with the National Economic and Development Authority in the Eastern Visayas region suggested that Hernani and Marabut can form a GIS unit that would coordinate the GIS-related tasks among the staff, manage a centralized database of the LGU, and serve the different offices in the LGU.

What happened during the training was that the staff got time to think about their ideas and questions, experimenting for the first time and finding ways to investigate and communicate their local questions and messages calling for change.

Thinking geographically and expressing questions, thoughts, and challenges for planners and the public, create new ways for awareness, participation and accountability.

Ms Dallay Annawi is a research staff of ESSC and is the Project Coordinator for the local GIS training and village mapping activities.

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